By Andrew Stern
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Proposed revisions to a U.S. Roman Catholic Church charter that addresses the sexual abuse of children by priests are insignificant and fail to address church cover-ups, critics said on Tuesday.
Members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests demonstrated outside church offices in Chicago to protest the draft of the planned revisions to the church's 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
"The changes are paltry, belated and largely insignificant," SNAP Executive Director David Clohessy said.
"Unfortunately, like almost everything the hierarchy does on abuse, there are no penalties whatsoever for ignoring or concealing child sex crimes," Clohessy said following the protest. "Bishops continue to try to depict this crisis as being isolated cases in isolated places, rather than what it is: a truly widespread, ongoing crisis."
The bishops' charter, which was revised once before in 2005, was created when cases of priest abuse emerged in Boston and then around the United States and the world. The U.S. church has paid some $2 billion in settlements, bankrupting a handful of dioceses.
Some 200 bishops gather on Wednesday in Seattle for a regular meeting where they are expected to weigh revisions to the charter and other issues. The revisions would bring the charter into line with the most recent Vatican instructions, including citing child pornography as a crime against church law and widening the definition to child abuse to those with mental disabilities.
A draft of the charter including the proposed revisions was posted on the website (www.bishopaccountability.org). Also posted was a letter from Springfield, Illinois, Bishop John Paprocki to Spokane Bishop Blase Cupich, who chairs the bishops' committee on the abuse crisis, suggesting few changes to church policy were needed.
Most of the changes in the draft appear minor, including efforts to adhere to a May 16 Vatican letter to bishops around the world telling them to make it a priority to root out sexual abuse of children by priests and to cooperate with police.
SNAP and other victims' groups have argued that the Vatican must take responsibility and not give individual bishops the freedom to deal with cases of priest abuse -- and with any cover-ups that occur.
Church critics point to a grand jury report in February implicating a higher-ranking official in the Philadelphia archdiocese in a cover-up of clergy abuse. Some 37 priests in active ministry were credibly accused and four were indicted by the grand jury.
A study released last month by John Jay College and commissioned by the U.S. church concluded that incidents of priest sexual abuse were largely decades old, and rooted in having unprepared priests entering ministry during an era of loosening societal mores.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)